President Trump’s recent executive order is “illegal, unethical and ill conceived.” That’s the judgment of more than 150 experts on Islam and the Muslim world in a statement that was developed by members of the American Academy of Religion.
As a professor of Islamic history at Penn State, I support this statement, because I am both directly and indirectly affected by this ban. My students and colleagues are full of fear and dismay, unsure of what is happening or what comes next. The fluid interpretations and possible expansion of this order only exacerbate its devastating impact on education.
We have undergraduate and graduate students, colleagues and families from all over the world on our campus, including from the seven affected countries. Many more have relatives from these countries, or from countries that, they fear, might be next on the list. This ban effectively bars them from leaving the country to visit family members, conduct business, do research or attend academic conferences. Penn State President Eric Barron has even warned them to carry documentation when traveling in the United States.
It is hard enough for these students and colleagues to be far away from friends and family, to be here learning and working in a foreign language. Add to that the fact that several of these countries — Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Sudan — have been torn apart by war. Our country should be a refuge, not a place of fear.
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My own research is also directly affected, since the order will prevent important internationally based scholars and artists from coming to our campuses. I work on 1,000-year-old Arabic manuscripts from Tunisia, and I have spent much of the past year planning an international symposium. Working with the Library of Congress and Penn State’s Center for Global Studies, we hope to make significant progress toward the cataloging and digitization of these important treasures.
Now, however, I have colleagues who are threatening to pull out. None of them are from the seven listed countries, but some are citizens of other Muslim countries. Others simply refuse to travel to the United States while this ban is in place.
We used to be the standard in academic excellence and the free exchange of information; I was especially proud to give my Tunisian colleagues a different view of the U.S. than the one they see on Arab television. But in one short week, Trump and Steve Bannon have turned us from a beacon into an international pariah state.
These policies are impediments to a better understanding of Muslim societies, to building harmonious relationships with Muslims and to collaboration with Muslim scholars both nationally and internationally on matters of global importance. This is the direct effect of this executive order; there is no evidence that it will prevent terrorism.
As an educator, I must also point out that this order is the culmination of a long trend of demonizing Muslims, both at home and abroad. I fear that another effect of these policies will be a continuation of hate crimes and persecution of Muslim minority populations in the U.S., a population that has made and continues to make significant contributions to the wealth and well-being of this country. The explicit references to “honor killings,” “acts of bigotry” and terrorism as a justification for this ban are offensive and demeaning.
Together with my colleagues at colleges and universities across the country, I regard this executive order as against both the letter of the law and the spirit of our country; it should be rescinded immediately.
Jonathan E. Brockopp is an associate professor in the history department at Penn State; his views do not necessarily reflect those of the university.